Dr. Cornel West –  “The Profound Desire for Justice”


It is so amazing to see
everybody here tonight. We’re coming right
off of fall break, and it’s so great to see so
many students and community members here. My name is Dr. Sakina Hughes. I’m a professor in
the history department and the co-chair, along with
my colleague [INAUDIBLE] of the Nelson Mandela
Commemoration Committee. I would like to remind students
if you need to sign in, there’s a table out in
front of the concourse. So don’t forget to sign in
if you have to get credit from your teachers. We also have a Q&A at
the end of our talk, and we’re going to be using
this hashtag– WestUSI– and you can tweet
your questions to that or you can come up
to the microphone and talk during the Q&A. A few acknowledgements. I want to welcome President
Linda Bennett, Provost Rochon, and all the deans
that are here tonight. Thank you for coming. And before I get
started, there are a few people I want to thank. The Office of the Provost, the
Romain College of Business, the Pott College of Science,
Engineering, and Education, the College of Liberal Arts, the
College of Nursing and Health Professions, the Multicultural
Center, Housing and Residence Life, the Counseling Center, and
the Evansville African American Museum. Without their
support, we would not have been able to put
on such a stellar event. So let’s give them
a round of applause. I’d also like to
thank the committee for doing such a great job– the
Mandela Commemoration Committee for doing such a great job. We work really well together,
and we couldn’t have done it without the committee. So thank you very much. Nelson Mandela was a
South African nationalist, a democratic socialist, an
anti-colonial freedom fighter, an anti-racist activist,
and a political prisoner for a third of his life. He was imprisoned
for his efforts to liberate South Africans
from apartheid, racism, and colonialism. In addition to fighting
for these struggles, Nelson Mandela also
played a crucial part in the reconciliation
efforts and the recreation of South Africa as an
interracial democracy. His legacy is
inspirational to those who seek a world in which social
justice reigns and human rights issues guide our leaders
to create better societies. This is the third University of
Southern Indiana Mandala Social Justice Day. As it grows, we hope it
brings USI and our surrounding communities together in a
celebration of human rights activism and achievements. We also hope that it challenges
us to address pressing issues in our local state and national
and international communities. There is really, in
my opinion, no point in commemorating a
person who dedicated his life to human
rights activism if we don’t take lessons
from his struggles and apply them to the struggles
of current social justice issues. As we listen to our
keynote speaker today, I ask that you
keep this in mind. What are the issues in our
community in Evansville and in our nation that
Nelson Mandela would have stood up and fought for? We must remember
that in his day, the struggles that
we’re fighting now looked a lot like the
struggles that he thought. People that were fighting
for social justice were criminalized
and demeaned and we have to keep our
heads up and remember that we are a part of history,
a part of that long history. Without further
ado, I would like to introduce President
Bennett– President of USI. Doctor Bennett. LINDA BENNETT: I’m not going to
speak very long because I know that we’re anxious
to hear our speaker, but I do want to say welcome. I see many students. I see many faculty and staff and
many members of the community. Welcome to those
who’ve come to hear the presentations this evening. Last year, we started
a bit of an initiative called the Civil Public
Square and we started it by discussing issues
around freedom of religion. The notion of the
Civil Public Square isn’t just that we agree
to be nice to each other. It’s about can we
discuss our differences and remember about the things
that bring us together– a common hope. And can we do that in a way that
builds better understanding? That is an important part of
the mission for any university today, and I am very glad
that our speaker agreed to accept the invitation
to be with us this evening. And so without
further delay, I want to introduce the
Provost, Dr. Ron Rochon, who will introduce our speaker. RON ROCHON: Good
evening, everybody. We need more love
than that, now. Good evening. There we go. There we go. This is USI. I am so honored and just
so thrilled about Dr. West being on our campus, and I’ve
had the pleasure and honor to have met him on
a few occasions, especially when I
became a new professor. And it is great to have him
here in Evansville today. I’m going to just provide you
with a very brief introduction. For those of you who
may not know the length and breadth of
his work, I really encourage you to Google him. Go to YouTube, for example. I went to YouTube
and I just watched several videos of Dr.
West giving lectures, and I told him today
that the one word that was so consistent with many
of the things that he spoke of was his notion of love. And he stuck very, very
closely to defining it in a very purposeful way. And I’m hopeful that as
you listen to him tonight, that you get a sense
of who this man is. Cornel West is a prominent
and democratic intellectual. He is professor of philosophy
and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary,
professor emeritus at Princeton University. He has taught at
Yale, at Harvard, and the University of Paris. Dr. West completed his BS
degree at Harvard University within three years
and then completed his master’s and his
Ph.D. At Princeton in the area of philosophy. He has written over 20
books and has edited 13. He is known best for his
classics Race Matters and Democracy Matters and also
for his memoir, Brother West, Living and Loving Out Loud. His most recent releases,
Black Prophets, Fire, and Radical Kings was received
with critical acclaim. He has also been involved with
25 different documentaries throughout his career. Examining life, calls,
response, sidewalk, and stand is just one of them. When we’re in my office
and I told him I said, I had this really amazing
intro for you, but I said, anybody can read that. What is it about you
that you wouldn’t mind sharing with the audience? And he said to me,
he said brother Ron– this is what he said–
brother Ron, if you could just let the audience know
that my mama and my daddy, I’m the product of them. So anything you find
redeeming of me, it’s because of these
two human beings. So that spoke volumes
to me immediately about where he
comes from and what he believes in– the kind
of stock he comes from. His father is in
heaven, his mother still lives in
Sacramento, California. In fact, she had a
school named after her. She was a teacher, a principal,
a scholar activist herself. And when you’re a
mom and you produce something like this
one, mamas get excited. I am so proud and so thrilled
to have this man on our campus. We call him friend, we call him
scholar, we call him teacher, we call him Brother West. Let’s give him a
USI welcome, please. CORNEL WEST: a blessing,
what an honor, and what a privilege to be here at the
University of Southern Indiana and be introduced by my
dear brother Ron Rochon. He is provost, he is
leader, he is father, he is my brother and comrade. He has a quiet dignity. He’s got a magnificent voice. He’s got courage, he’s got
vision and determination. He’s here with his
magnificent wife, Lynn. And I don’t know
whether [INAUDIBLE] was able to make it. Of course, brother [? Ayinday ?]
is there at Indiana University. Give it up for both of them. Both stand. When this brother
calls, I come running. And he told me such
wonderful things about the captain of
the ship, the leader of this grand
institution, [INAUDIBLE] since 2003 as
citizen, as worker, leading now for seven years. She does make a difference. She also is my sister and a
leader of tremendous vision and courage. I’m talking about
President Linda LM Bennett. Give it up. Professor Sakina Hughes has
been so wonderful to dialogue with students was such a
magnificent experience for me. And Professor Denise Lynn,
I don’t know where she is. There she is indeed. Give it up for both
of them as well. Thank you all. Can you hear me in the back? I know I have a cold. Can you me in the
back all right? And you let me know. If my cold sets in
and you can’t hear me, just Brother West,
Brother West, could you speak just a little louder. Because we are in it together. Also a very special
brother here I was just introduced
to his aunt is one of the towering figures
in intellectual life. Her name is Bell Hooks. Many of you read her books. Many of you have been
transformed by her text. I was just with her
just a few months ago at her new Institute–
the Bell Hooks Institute at Berea College. But brother Joseph King. Where is brother Joseph? Where is he? Take a step– give it up
for this brother here. You can see I’m in no hurry. Not at all. It’s not every day I can
come to an institution that 52 years ago didn’t exist. And now, look the ways in which
you flowered and flourished. Look at the ways in
which you’ve been able to touch hearts,
minds, and souls of precious young
people of all colors and all genders and
sexual orientation and religious or
non-religious identities. USI, you’ve got something
very special going on. And we have much
to learn from you– those of us in
institutions of higher education in other places. It’s true that any time I
say the name Nelson Mandela, it makes me shake. I was blessed to meet him. I gave the Nelson
Mandela lecture in 2006. He was sitting on the front
row, was on national television. I tend to say things that
are highly controversial, so you can imagine, I said
some controversial things about my dear brother Nelson
Mandela, deeply rooted in a profound love and respect. But I talked about how he had
been Santa Claus-ified They turned him into Santa Claus. Always with a smile,
toys in his bag, no longer a threat
to the status quo. That’s how the mainstream
likes to sanitize and sterilize folk who have a profound
desire for justice. When I met him the
next day, I got down on my knees, almost
like [INAUDIBLE]. He said, no, get up. Get up Brother West. You told the truth. He said, the truth can be
difficult. It can be painful. I have been Santa Claus-ified. I said, I need to
get this on tape. But like Martin Luther King Jr,
like Dorothy Day, like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel, like
Philip Berrigan, like Malcolm X, like Fannie Lou Hamer,
like so many others who have and have had a
profound desire for justice, it’s so easy to domesticate
them and lose sight of what goes into the making of them. I recall in my
conversation, he asked me, he said, Brother West, how
would you characterize yourself? I said, Brother Nelson–
that’s how I row. I talked about Mr Mandela
for about 45 minutes. He said, just call me brother. I said, that’s good. I said Brother Mandela, I am who
I am because somebody loved me, somebody cared for me,
somebody attended to me, somebody targeted me. Highest honor I’ve
ever received has nothing to do with
Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or University of Paris,
but being the second son of the late Clifton and
the present Irene B. West and being the brother of
Cynthia and Cheryl and Clifton. If I could being one
half of the human being my mother or father,
mom is and dad was, I would not have lived in vain. That’s a gift. I had little to do with it. I chose to pursue certain
kinds of callings, but I was born in
circumstances like all of us not of our own choosing. And then become
Shilo Baptist Church on the chocolate side of
Sacramento, Reverend Willy P. Cook. In those days, we had pastors. We’ve got too many CEOs
today running churches, but that’s another issue. We had pastors in those days. Deep love, didn’t have mega
churches, but had mega love. Didn’t have mega churches,
but had mega sense of service and courage, humility, touch,
connection, community– that’s where I come from. Deacon [INAUDIBLE] and Sara Ray
was my vacation bible school teacher wrestling
with the Book of Job. And how do you reconcile God
given the massive social misery and socially induced forms
of suffering in the world? Those issues were wrestled
with in that church. We’re not even talking
about the school room yet. Then my teachers– white
teachers, the [INAUDIBLE] Saul and Cicilia Angel
Joe kept track of me, pushed me, unnerved me,
unsettled me, challenged me. That was before Harvard. That was before John Rawls. That was before HIllary Putnam. That was before Robert Nozick. That was before Stanley
Cavel or Israel Scheffler. Great teachers there–
the Martin Kilsons and Preston [? William. ?] Then on to Princeton with
Richard Rorty and Sheldon Wolin and Walter Kauffman and
Tom Nagel and Tim Scanlon. These folks loved me. In part because
we were undergoing a deep process of paideia. Greek word for deep education
not cheap schooling. Never ever confuse deep
education with cheap schooling. Cheap schooling is
going to a place, gaining access to
a skill that equips you to move into
the labor market so you can engage
in outward mobility and hope someday you can
live in some vanilla suburb with a trophy spouse. That’s cheap education. We’re not talking about
that here at this place. We’re talking about paideia. And deep education
is about what? Learning how to die in order
to learn how to live well. Plato says philosophia, love
of wisdom and meditation and preparation for death. To philosophize, to love
wisdom is to learn how to die, says Montaine, the creator
of the genre called the essay in his magnificent essays. Exactly. [LAUGHTER] SPEAKER 1: I believe
in call and response. [LAUGHTER] Seneca says he or she who learns
how to die unlearns slavery. These precious students
who come through this place of all colors and all parts
of the country and the world, you come here in order to
examine your assumptions, and pre-suppositions,
to interrogate your prejudices and
your pre-judgements, and when you give some of them
up, that is a form of death! And there is no education;
there is no growth; there is no development
without that kind of critical examination. That’s what Socrates means in
line 38 of Plato’s Apology, the unexamined life
is not worth living. He actually says that. Not a life of a human. You know our English word human
derives from the latin humando which means burying and burial. We are beings toward death. Candidates for burial. And the short time
between womb and tomb will we muster the courage
to examine our assumptions and presuppositions
in such a way that we can exemplify
the best of paideia, the best of deep education,
which does include a profound desire for justice. Now any justice as only justice
soon degenerates into something less than justice. Justice is rescued
only by something more profound than
justice, namely the love. Love of truth, which means
all of us could be wrong. No one of us have a monopoly
on Truth, capital-T. Which means we learn and
listen to people who we disagree with, people
we think are thoroughly wrong. That’s why I fight for the
right of my dear brother Rush Limbaugh to be wrong. [LAUGHTER] We have to have a
robust conversation. A fight for the right for Noam
Chomsky to be wrong or right. We have to have an
uninhabited dialogue, but we have to be willing to
enter that public space in such a way that is mediated
with a respect, but also mediated with a
hermeneutical humility. And by hermeneutical humility,
I mean an acknowledgement that any interpretation that
we promote is revisable, is subject to change based on
evidence, argument, and so on. And oh, what a challenge it is. And that’s why this institution
is so very important and other institutions of higher
education, because paideia at it’s deepest level
is about the formation of wise attention. It’s about trying
to get students to attend to the
things that matter and shift away from
the superficial things. How do you engage in what Plato
called a turning of the soul, that [? paragogy! ?]
That’s what education is. When we arrive, most of us
have very narrow assumptions. We have some parochial
sensibilities and prevential ways of
looking at the world. We grew up in bubbles. We grew up in
neighborhoods that didn’t have a lot of Socratic energy. May have had a lot of love. That’s a beautiful thing. Never denigrate
grandma or granddaddy, because they didn’t read Newton,
Einstein, the white head. Some of your
grandparents may have, I’m just talking about mine. But at the same time,
they carried with them some assumptions
and presupposition that needed to be
called into question. And you talk about
legacies of male supremacy. Legacies of white supremacy. Legacies of homophobia. Legacies of
American-centrism, where you think that somehow an
American life has more value than a life in Yemen, or
Pakistan, or Afghanistan, or Ethiopia, Guatemala. How do you broaden
out the worldview of precious students
in such a way that they embark on
an endless process of Socratic self-examination. That’s what formation
of attention is. In fact, one can say, tell me
what someone is attending to and it tells you much
about who they are. They attend the
superficial pleasures. They attend to the
highly commodified ways of being in the world. Just obsessed with
buying and selling. And oftentimes willing
to sell themselves rather than being integral selves. That’s a deep spiritual
crisis as well as moral decay. Paideia. Tied to the profound
desire for justice, but always connected
to that larger sense of turning from the
superficial to the substantial. It’s about the cultivation
of a critical self and a maturation
of a loving soul. Now I come from a people
and a tradition connected to Nelson Mandela, yes. But rooted here in the
United States, a people who for 400 years have been
terrorized, and traumatized, and stigmatized in various
ways, deeply hated, and yet taught the world. So much about love. And I’ve always understood
my calling– trying to keep that legacy alive. Frederick Douglass’s
and Harriet Tubman’s. Ida B. Well’s, Martin King’s,
Donna Hathaway’s, Aretha Franklin’s. Think of John Coltrane’s
“Love Supreme”. Think of Toni
Morrison’s “Beloved”. You think of the love-soaked
essays of James Baldwin where he says loves forces
us to take off the mask. We know we cannot live within,
but fear we cannot live without. Marvin Gaye is what’s going on. Every note shot through
with a love sensibility. Save a baby– who
really cares, Marvin? Crying out from his soul. Has there ever been a figure–
and I’ve met some magnificent students in theatre earlier
in the dialogue today. Has there ever been a figure
on the American stage that exemplified and enacted more
love than mama and a raisin in the sun written by
genius from Chicago, named Lorraine Hansberry,
still in her 20s. Would be dead by 34, but
that character resonates down through the quarters of time. Stevie Wonder’s “Love
and the Need of Love”. I could go on and on and on. What is it about these people? Willing to look terrorism
in the face and say we refuse to terrorize others. We want freedom for everybody. That’s what Frederick
Douglass said. Ida B. Wells, what do you say
in the face of Jim Crow, Jane Crow, another form
of American terrorism in which every two and a half
days for almost 50 years, there was some black body, some
black woman, some black child, some black man, woman, baby,
hanging from some tree? The strange fruit that
southern trees bear that the great Billie Holiday
sang about with such power, and the Jewish brother writing
the lyrics, brother Meeropol. And if he was here,
he would be breaking his fast for Yom
Kippur right now. What is it about
these folks that muster the courage of
Socratic self-examination, but connected to a
willingness to be sensitive to the suffering
of others, empathetic, putting themselves
in the skin of others so that as they’re
terrorized they don’t use the create black
versions of ISIS or al-Qaeda. But rather produce Martin
Luther King Jr’s, love warriors to the core? And that particular
tradition is the leaven in the American loaf, because to
go from Ida B. Wells to Martin King from Frederick Douglass
to Fannie Lou Hamer, if black people had
chosen something else, there’d have been civil strife. Every generation would
had been a civil war. Every generation in
the United States. I like to tell my white
brothers and sisters, when you see black
people sometimes, you ought to just say thank you. [LAUGHTER] Thank you for
Martin Luther King. Thank you for the nameless
mothers and grandmothers who refused to terrorize when
they were terrorized, refused to traumatize when
they were traumatized, refused to hate when
they were hated. What it is Emmett
Till’s mother say when she stepped to the lectern
on the west side of Chicago in Robert’s Temple church of God
and Christ in August of 1955? A baby, right there
in front of her. Her only child. She said, keep that casket open. I want the world to see. I want America to
see the underside of American democracy. She stepped to the
lectern and said, what I don’t have
a minute to hate. I will pursue justice
for the rest of my life. What goes into that kind of
shaping and molding of a soul? What goes into the
shaping and molding of a people and a community? That can continually dish out
that kind of love of truth? A love of beauty, just listen
to the voice of a David Ruffin. Regardless of his life,
that Negro can sing. [LAUGHTER] Listen to the falsetto. Ted Mills of Blue Magic. Russell Tompkins
of The Stylistics. Or Eddie Kendrick
with David Ruffin. This mama in LA renamed her
child after Eddie Kendricks. He’s a genius. His name is Kendrick Lamar. The tradition goes on. It’s not just justice and truth. It’s beauty! But it’s not just beauty. There’s a tenderness there. Nelson Mandela. Martin King. Malcolm X. They
were tender persons personally and interpersonally. James Baldwin wrote an
essay on Malcolm, said, I never met a sweeter man. Now if that was true,
most of white America didn’t get that memo. No, not with Malcolm. But you had to know him. You had to know him. He grew. He developed. But there’s a tenderness. There’s a sweetness. There’s a gentleness that goes
hand in hand with the tradition that I’m talking about. And the challenge for
the younger generation is how do you undergo
the kind of Paideia in present circumstances
so that you accent the best of the legacies
of Nelson Mandela, the best of the legacies of Martin King. We could add Mahatma Gandhi. Or [INAUDIBLE] Myles Horton,
a towering vanilla brother, white brother, [? islander ?]
center in Tennessee where Rosa Parks was
three months before she decided to sit down on a bus in
order to stand up for justice. Burned down by his cousins,
members of the Klu Klux Klan. Rebuild it up over
and over again. That’s courage. That’s self-examination. That’s determination. That’s fortitude. That’s commitment. That’s conviction. That’s the challenge for
the younger generation. There’s four questions
I want to put forward, and this is especially
for the student here at this grand
institution, because we want to keep the focus
where it belongs. What we are here for. We are teachers. Teaching is a sacred profession. Actually it’s a vocation. It’s a calling,
not just a career. And the greatest of
all democratic, public intellectuals in the American
empire, W. E. B. Du Bois. He’s got a lot of competition,
towering figures like John Dewey, Edmond
Wilson, Susan Sontag, and [INAUDIBLE],
and James Baldwin. But I go with W. E. B. Du Bois. And I want you to imagine
him in February, 1951. He’s in handcuffs. The government is trying
to send him to jail. They’ve already taken
away his passport. He’s at [? 1131 ?] Court
Street Brookyln Heights, in the greatest borough
in the world, Brooklyn. I’m from Sacramento,
California, but that’s just an external observation. [LAUGHTER] I love Brooklyn. I really do. He had obtained
house because one of the great literary
artists of our time and then his name
was Arthur Miller. He authored Death of a
Salesman, All My Sons. He had bought a house and
then handed the keys over to W. E. B. Du Bois
given the red lining of banks which was
a common policy to reinforce Jim Crow Jr.
segregation not by law but in practice, de facto. He had one visitor who was
also under house arrest. He lived at 4951 Walnut
Street in Philadelphia. His name was Paul Robeson,
who was the most popular Negro in the world in 1939, but was
under house arrest in the 1950s because of his association
with the struggle for justice, a profound desire for justice. Just those two together in
dialogue with each other. Well thank you so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you so much. We can see my cold
is coming out, but I just don’t want
it to get in the way, because I want to communicate
today, absolutely. But what happened
in that dialogue? The boy says he wants to write
a love letter to the younger generation hoping
they will undergo some moral and spiritual
awakening based on Socratic
self-examination, but also based on the rich prophetic
legacy of Jerusalem, going back to Hebrew scriptures. Spreading [? Heset ?] to
orphans, widows, fatherless, motherless, downtrodden,
those who are dehumanized. That do justly love
mercy walk humbly with thy God echoes of Micah. Or let justice roll down
like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream of
Amos, mediated through Jesus. Also at work in Mohammed. Du Bois says Paul,
how do I do that? Thank you so much. I’ll hold off on
the hug from him. I’ve hugged him already today. I don’t want to give
your family a cold, but I don’t want your family
to have a cold either. Du Bois says, what? Imagine this. 85 years old, he
embarks on the writing of three novels, a trilogy. In the first novel, The
Ordeal of Mansart, page 275, he says these are the
four questions I’m sending to the younger generation. I’ve been wrestling with
them all of my life. And I’m trying to exemplify
the highest level of paideia. This is Du Bois, of
course, first black man Ph.D. From Harvard. Fisk University undergrad. Studied for three years,
university of Berlin with Max Weber and other
towering historical sociologists. Returns to the
United States, one of the founders of the NAACP. He’s also an alpha brother, ’06. Like [? Donny ?]
Hathaway and others. In the four queries
are first– how shall integrity face oppression? How shall integrity
face oppression? How, as young students,
can you engage in endless quest for
integrity in an age of stupidity and venality? In an age of love
of money, in an age of love of narrow success,
in a age in which everything is for sale and
everybody’s for sale, and people are so willing
to sell themselves for a [INAUDIBLE] in order to
be successful, in an age where people are less concerned
with the 10 commandments and obsessed with
11th commandment– thou shall not get caught. Just look at the business pages. That’s what you see. Scandal after scandal
after scandal. Even the presidential campaign. Scandal! Did you get caught? Oh, my god. Did you say that? Oh, my god. [LAUGHTER] Now all of us know we’re all
finite, and we’re all fallible. But to embark on a
quest for integrity and find yourself radically
cutting against the grain– because the grain is toward
cupidity and venality. Intellectual integrity. Trying to tell the truth,
and a condition of truth is always to allow
suffering to speak. How difficult it is for
journalism and newspapers to really tell the truth. Look at drones, for
example, in America. 45 drones under
brother George Bush. 450 some under brother
President Obama. No serious talk about drones
until an American was killed. Then all of a sudden there
was a press conference that afternoon. Then there was that recognition. We’ve got to provide
economic compensation. I said wait a minute– how
many innocent non-americans have been killed? Over 200 children
have been killed. Why the obsession with just
one American gets killed? Well that’s how we operate. Well you know? What that doesn’t
have moral integrity. They say, well brother
West, does that make you anti-American? No, it makes me anti-injustice
in America anti-injustice in relation to any
nation, any country. Nelson Mandela, Martin
Luther King Jr., both of them Christians. One of the things I was
fascinated with Nelson Mandela. I said, you were
shaped by methodism. You went to a Methodist
college and so forth. And of course, he had
worked with communists, but he always held
on to his Bible. He’s got a picture of his
Bible and him in the cell. And, of course,
the claim is what? That the flag is always
subordinate to the cross. Is not the cross
subordinate to the flag? And if the cross is
about unconditional love, unarmed truth, then
every voice of justice, every voice suffering,
needs to be taken seriously, so that a life lost
in Somalia ought to have the same status as a
live loss in the United States. That is never, ever going
to be massively popular. But look at line 24a
of Plato’s Apology where Socrates says what? The cause of my unpopularity is
what he calls in a Greek part– Parrhesia. P-A-R-R-H-E-S-I-A. Parrhesia
means plain speech, frank speak, fearless
speak, unintimidated speech. Speech that will
get you in trouble. But if there’s integrity
in your speech– you’re not about
trying to be popular; you’re about trying to
be true to something bigger than you so you
can be a force for good. And therefore, you cut
radically against the grain. That’s what I mean by the Santa
Claus of occasion of any force for good. People trying to
somehow fit you in. The worst thing young
people can ever be told is somehow the end
and aim of life is simply to be successful. If success merely means
material possessions and being well-adjusted
to injustice. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
is right when he says, indifference to evil is
more evil than evil itself. It’s the callousness
of the heart. It’s the coarsening
of the conscious. It’s the chilling of the soul
to turn away from the suffering, especially of the
least of these echoes of the 25th chapter of Matthew. And, of course, Jesus himself
uses the language that flows out of Hebrew scripture. Love thy neighbor as thyself in
the 19th chapter of Leviticus. But it’s a legacy
of Jerusalem that is so easily lost these days. So it is no accident. We were talking about this
in the wonderful dialogue with the students. Child poverty in America. 45% of black children under the
age of 6 live in utter poverty in the richest nation in
the history of the world. That’s a disgrace. 22% of all children, each
child, no matter what color, equally priceless and precious. What kind of future
can any democracy have when that kind of
poverty is in place? And do you hear any serious
talk about it in the election? I won’t say
presidential campaign, because they’re not
the only two running. You’ve got a whole host
running for other offices. Did you hear any serious talk
about in the last eight years? Under a black president,
you would have thought. A black president got Martin
Luther King Jr. right there in his office. Martin looking at him every day. My dear brother Barack
Obama, I appreciate you being so brilliant and charismatic. How you won is amazing. It shows that American people
are much less racist than they were when I was around. I applaud them. But I don’t give moral
prizes for people who were less racist
than their grandparents. But I was talking about
poverty, racism, and militarism, and materialism
as the four forces that will suck the blood
out of American democracy. Lo and behold, that child
poverty is still operating. Tied to decrepit school
systems, massive unemployment and underemployment
still at work. Families weak,
communities feeble. Too often, police as Marvin
Gaye says, trigger happy. Need for police accountability. Martin was talking
about it in the ’60s. Marvin was singing
about it in the ’70s. 2016 Ferguson, Charlotte. We’re not too far
from Ferguson, are we? Just a few hours away. We just had a
debate in St. Louis, did you hear any
talk about Ferguson? Not on my mumbling word. Not a mumbling word. What a challenge. Where is the paideia? The self-examination? The criticism, the
willingness to bear witness, to raise voices– not
in a self righteous way. And this is very
important for folks who are on fire for justice. Sometimes people become so
self righteous and being on fire that people
don’t feel as if they can engage in dialogue with you,
because you’re too dogmatic. No, no. We have to be fallible in our
exchange with one another. We have to be receptive
enough to learn and listen. But Du Bois says how does
integrity face oppression. This is a major problem among
spokespersons and leaders. I’ve been blessed to teach
in prisons now for 37 years. I started when I was in college,
at Norfolk Prison right outside of Boston. Just finished my class
at [? Broadway. ?] When I started, there
were 300,000 prisoners. Today it’s 2.5 million. That’s the expansion
of incarceration. War on drugs is a
war on poor people. Criminality at work
on Wall Street, 2008, insider trading,
market manipulation, fraudulent activity,
predatory lending. How many Wall Street
executives went to jail? Exactly. A little less than the number of
Negroes in the National Hockey League. [LAUGHTER] CORNEL WEST: I ain’t got
nothing against hockey but it’s just not a sport
that has spilled over to my community yet. When it does, it’s
going to happen. It’s like Tiger Woods. It’s going to get there,
it’s going to get there. Thank you so much. I would give you a hug, but I
don’t want to give you a cold. I just gave her a hug. Du Bois boy’s integrity. When I was coming along, it was
very clear to us who loved us and who would die for us. I ask young people all the
time, who will die for you? What do they say? Mama. I say who else? Some of them say daddy. Not all of them, though. We got some good
fathers out there. I’m looking at one right now. But some fathers of all
colors falling short. Some of them, you got
to hunt them down. In public life, who
would die for you? We had a whole list of them. Angela Davis, to Huey Newton to
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali. Right across the board. Thomas Smith, John Carlos,
they gave their all. And that’s just the
top of the list. We haven’t got to
the vanilla side yet. Because we got some white
brothers and sisters. Miles Horton and others. Rabbi [? Heshel ?] and others. They’re willing to die. Young folks say well–
Tupac– no, he got shot. Biggie got shot. Two geniuses but they got shot. They didn’t die for the cause. [INAUDIBLE] is willing to die. Young folks have some. [INAUDIBLE] X,
Immortal Technique. I think Erykah Badu is
willing to die for the cause. You laugh, so you agree with me? You agree with me? Maybe, huh. Oh, OK. We going to talk about that. I love me some Erykah
Badu from Dallas. But the point is not
enough integrity. The same is true in terms
of the educational process. They did a study 16 years
ago that said 58% of students cheat regularly on their exams. I said well, they haven’t
been to this institution. I know they– none
of this [INAUDIBLE]. Because the aim is just
to get an A. Rather than undergo Socratic
self-examination. Because the lessons
they learned are just be successful by any means. Where’s the integrity? I turn on the
radio, and I listen to many folk who are
making millions of dollars, they can’t sing in tune. Carmen [INAUDIBLE]
turns over in her grave. Sarah Vaughan turns
over in her grave. Nat King Cole turns
over in his grave. So does Johnny Hartman,
so does Billy Eckstine, so does Louis Armstrong. They had integrity, they
got their notes right. It’s not just a matter
of making money. Curtis Mayfield, one of the
greatest geniuses of his day, was told over and
over again, stay away from those civil rights rallies. Have nothing to do with
the social struggles if you want to be successful. He showed up with
his guitar anyway. John Coltrane would
say the last thing you should ever do is go
to a lecture by Malcolm X because they will be not just
critical, they will reject you after you played my
favorite thing, [INAUDIBLE]. What happened? Coltrane shows up on the front
row listening to Malcolm X. And in his interviews says what? He’s highly impressive. And his agent has
a heart attack. Because Malcolm X got 3%
support in the black community. Zero in the white, minus
in the white community. Coltrane says so what? I’m attempting to be
a person, a musician, and an artist of integrity. He went out and played My
Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. When I play Giant Steps, when
I play Interstellar Space, I have to be clear about
the integrity of the self that I am presenting to others. I’m giving them the
bigness of my heart and the mastery of my craft. That’s what integrity is. How our young folk
getting access to that? I tell my young folk,
we were talking again. I said it’s so
difficult. There’s no groups like The
Dramatics or The Delfonics or The Marvelletes. Or The Emotions. Or Midnight Star, Atlantic Star. There’s no bands
like Ohio Players or [INAUDIBLE] or the
103rd Street Rhythm Band, or James Brown’s band. Or the Marquees or the Bar-kays. They all shaped, by discipline,
mastery of their craft, raising their voices. The last band of the
younger generation is Roots on television. Thank God for The Roots. But no nowadays,
it’s money driven. And the oligarchs in their
recording industry and live performance and radio. They just want isolated
mouths running. And some of them are genius. The Kanye’s and the Jay-Z’s. A lot of them just saying
anything to make my name. It’s all about cash,
C.R.E.A.M. Cash rules everything around me. But it doesn’t have to rule me. One can still be a person of
integrity across the board. That’s no accident, even
in rhythm and blues. It’s hard to find young
black folk winning the rhythm and blues awards now. It’s Justin and some of
these other white brothers. They doing a good job. But somebody tell– oh,
you the next Marvin Gaye. Quit lying! [LAUGHTER] CORNEL WEST: He’s lucky
to achieve Hall & Oates. Telling them they
Marvin Gaye, quit lying! But the young folk are told
don’t do that because there’s no money in it! This is a problem when
big money takes over. There’s a wonderful
line in Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk when he says what
happens when peoples of color become assimilated into the
dusty desert of smartness and dollars. Spiritual blackout. And you think about it. In the last 40 years, one
of the highest compliment you could ever give young
folk is you’re smart. And I thank God I was
never told that that was a high compliment. You’re smart. Why? Because I grew up where
there were smart Nazis, there were smart
white supremacists, there were smart
male supremacists, there were smart xenophobes,
there were smart folk who had coldness of heart. Wisdom cuts deeper
than smartness. Compassion cuts
deeper than smartness. Let the foes be
smart, young folks be wise and compassionate. Cut deeper than that. That’s Nelson Mandela,
that’s Martin Luther King Jr, that’s Fannie Lou Hamer. Now I’m not promoting stupidity. I don’t want to anybody to
say oh, brother West trashed smartness, which means he
want everybody to be stupid. No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying philosophia,
love of wisdom connected to compassion and courage. Where do we find
courage these days? We used to be able to
find more integrity and courage in the mosques,
in temples, in synagogues, in churches. But market culture has
taken over major slices of those institutions. So you get market religion. Go to church. Pray for a blessing
rather than be a blessing. Transform the blood at
the cross in the Kool-Aid, just dip in and keep moving. Quiet teams titillate your body. Soul stirrers hard to find. Sam Cooke, Johnny Taylor, Lou
Rawls are the soul stirrers. They stir you so deep, turn you
around, equip you and empower and enable you to become
warriors for something bigger than yourself. That’s the tradition that young
folks, more and more these days hungry and thirsty. That’s in part what
Du Bois had in mind. Let me get to the
three questions. Second question Du Bois
raised was what does honesty do in the face of deception? Young people, what
does it really mean to engage in trying
to be an honest human being in a time of mendacity? Lies. Ubiquitous mendacity. And there’s an intimate
connection between lies that hide and conceal crimes. There’s an intimate
connection between mendacity and criminality. And we usually don’t like
to call it for what it is. Crimes against humanity. Crimes against humanity. We have a long history of
that in the United States. Look at the US constitution. Do you find any reference to
the institution of slavery? No. Now, how you going
to form a nation, 22% of inhabitants
of the 13 colonies are enslaved,
whose very labor is generating the wealth
that is the precondition for your democracy? No reference to it. Chickens going to
come home to roost. You going to end up fighting
a vicious, barbaric civil war over an institution not
invoked in your constitution. That’s what happened. And we haven’t talked
about indigenous peoples and their precious
babies and children. And the land dispossession
and so forth. Denial. But truth crushed to
earth will rise again. Sooner or later,
you’ve got to deal with what is being repressed. So it is in 2016. Ecological
catastrophe impending. The anthropocene is here. Where’s the response? Active response. Young people on fire. Ecological movement. Beautiful thing. How do you bring
pressure to bear on the status quo
that is so tied to fossil fuel and other forms? Reproducing our society
that don’t take seriously the ecological catastrophe. Nuclear catastrophe,
escalating, Cold War all over again with Russia
and the United States, nuclear missiles pointed
against each other. Economic catastrophe. When I was the age
of young people, the top 1% owned
22% of the wealth. Today, the top 1% own
41% of the wealth. That’s a major shift of wealth
from poor and working people to the top 1%. And it increased under
the black president. Black Lives movement
under black president. Black president, black attorney
general, black homeland security cabinet member. And yet every 28 hours
for the last eight years, a black person has
been shot by a policeman. And not one policeman go to
jail or under federal pressure. Listen, brother West, how come
you so hard on the president. I say this is a
Keith Sweat moment. Something just ain’t right. [LAUGHTER] CORNEL WEST: I’m all for
black power at the height. But I want black power
translated in such a way that it impinges in a positive
manner on the lies of those who Stone called everyday people. Or those James Cleveland
called ordinary people. I’m not just obsessed with the
brilliant ones who are breaking glass ceilings, I applaud them. But what about them
in the basement? What about their cousins
still in the basement dealing with mass incarceration,
dealing with decrepit school system, dealing with
massive unemployment and underemployment. We’ve got to lift as we toil,
I don’t care how smart you are or how successful you are. What are you using
your success for? That’s the legacy
of Nelson Mandela. That’s the legacy of Martin
Luther King Jr, Fannie Lou Hamer, and others. And we’ll never fully
meet their high standards, but that’s all right. We try again, fail
again, fail better. Try again, fail
again, fail better. When they put us put
us in the coffin, they’ll say oh, what a
magnificent failure he was. But like my daughter
reminds me every day, daddy, I just love the fact that
you’re so committed to noble but lost causes. [LAUGHTER] CORNEL WEST: She said daddy,
you know poor people are never going to be liberated. You know that black people
never going to be free. Why? Because white
supremacy is too deep. Because the power of the
elites is too pervasive. But you try anyway, daddy. I love you. Give me a hug. I say don’t reach that
conclusion so quickly, my baby. Oh, we can make some movement,
we can make some progress. And who knows,
maybe, in fact, we’ll be able to eliminate poverty. Maybe, in fact, we can
push back xenophobia. Maybe, in fact, we
can stay in contact with the humanity of our
Muslim brothers and sisters in such a moment, with our
Mexican brothers and sisters in such a moment, with our
gay, lesbian, and bisexual and transgender folk
in such a moment. With our poor white brothers
and sisters in such a moment. We will go down swinging. It don’t mean a swing if
it ain’t got that swing. That’s my tradition. Third question of Du
Bois, what does decency do in the face of insult? Even when you are
assaulted, do you have what the best– what
I have been acquainted with in my tradition. You refuse to de-humanize
even when you de-humanize. Refuse to get in
the gutter even when they are trying to
push you in the gutter. Because you committed
to something bigger than just winning. You would rather be
defeated momentarily with your integrity and
your honesty and decency than win and be a
gangster like the folk who are gangsterizing you. That’s a great tradition. Young folk never
lose sight of that. No matter what color you are,
no matter where you’re from. That integrity, honesty, and
decency are never up for sale. If you’re the last
person holding on to it, put a smile on your
grandmother’s face. Put a smile on those
who shaped you. Stand up for those who
are being pushed aside, are disabled and
physically challenged, they’re human like anybody else. And you do it because it’s right
and it’s just and it’s moral. Not doing it, somehow that’s
going to make you successful, and you can engage
in [INAUDIBLE] with social mobility. And the last
question that Du Bois raises, what does courage do
in the face of brute force? And that’s the
most difficult one. Because Du Bois was
talking about people who must be willing to die. As I’ve mentioned before,
that’s rarely the case that the mass movement. But there has to be some who
are willing to die If they serious about what’s going on. That’s why when Martin
Luther King– many ways that goes to Nelson Mandela. Brought the young
people in Birmingham– what did he tell them? He said young folk, do you
have on your cemetery clothes? They have your
cemetery clothes on? Reverend King, what
you talking about? I hate to tell this, and
I’ve told your parents but there’s some folk out
here who will kill us. We saw it with the four
precious babies in Birmingham. They will kill us
because they indifferent, they callous, have
contempt and hate for us. We’re going to try
to protect you. But I’m a pacifist. We have to have a
conviction measurable in the face of brute force. And let’s just be
honest about it. You can have all of
virtues in the world, but if you don’t have the
enabling virtue of courage, the rest will be
shallow and hollow. And so many of
our young folk are socialized into a culture
of conformism, a culture of complacency and cowardice. Just fit in. Whatever the majority is doing. Fit in. Willing to die is
a separate thing. And the only thing that
breaks the back of the fear is the love. The only thing that people
will die for is the deep love. Just when I ask the young
folk, who would die for you. Your mom and you’ll die
for her, that’s right. Full of fear, but you can
break the back of fear with a deep love. That’s why love is always
deeper than just justice. US military, they’re
willing to die. I resonate with that. I know I gave a
lecture at West Point. He said brother
West, we love you because it’s clear that you
have a soldier like sensibility just like us. I said you’re absolutely right. Our cause might not
always coincide. But we are warriors. I’m a small love
warrior, willing to die. You are a US warrior,
willing to die. I respect that at
the level of courage. And I would have joined
the army against Hitler I would joined the Jim
Crow army against Hitler. Just like I would have joined
the movement against apartheid in South Africa in the 1960s. Because I’m not a
pacifist like Martin. I believe in just war. But there’s other wars
I wouldn’t have joined. They were not just wars. And you have to make
that moral discernment. But you have to be willing
to be courageous in that way. And the history of struggles
in the United States go hand in hand
with assassination. Character assassination,
literal assassination, murder. We can go across the board. And many of them are nameless. We don’t even know all
of those who were killed. I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Thousands of folk killed
in 1921 in a riot. 1919 in Arkansas, Elaine
race riot, 800 killed. serious business. But there has to be a
small slice of those who love deep
enough, but still are self-critical to speak a
truth and to bear witness so that the spirit of
Socratic self-examination and prophetic witness becomes
more and more contagious. That’s the challenge. And that’s, for me, sits at the
center of the profound desire for justice. It means, then, that we
end up being blues people. Because blues folk have
a long distance strategy on intimate terms
with catastrophe. Nobody loves me but my mommy,
and she might be driving too. That’s the blues. That’s catastrophe. But the king of the blues
does it with such style, with smile, with a
little help from Lucille, with echoes of Robert
Johnson and Betsy Smith, the tradition that informs his
playing and his vocalizing, with the love at
the center of it. That’s the challenge
that I would humbly present to you today. Thank you so very
much for being here. I look forward to the questions. [APPLAUSE] SPEAKER 1: Dr. West,
just thank you so much. I know that we have some
folks that need to exit. So go ahead. We have a few minutes
for some questions. So we have two
microphones right here. I’m asking if you could
please, if you have a question, we want to go ahead
and provide students and guests an opportunity
to ask Dr. West a question. Unfortunately, we don’t have
the opportunity for folks to have a dialogue with
Dr. West at the microphone. So if you have a question,
please come forward. And we can go ahead
and get his response, as many questions as possible. We have a few minutes. So if you have a
question, please. Yes, sir. SPEAKER 2: Hi, Dr. West. Thank you for being here. CORNEL WEST: How you
doing my brother? Good to see you. SPEAKER 2: I’m doing just fine. So I’m kind of curious because
I’ve done some interrogation into your literature. And I’m kind of curious, are
you familiar with the works of Dr. Thomas Sowell or
with Mr. Larry Elder? CORNEL WEST: Absolutely. SPEAKER 2: OK. I’m just curious what your
agreement or disagreement is with Dr. Sowell’s thesis
about black ghetto culture, and how it is a relic
of the antebellum South. CORNEL WEST: Yes, I
appreciate the question. You know, I have a
chapter in Race Matters where I actually have a review
of my dear brother Thomas. So let me look at
you, my brother. [LAUGHTER] CORNEL WEST: We are eye
to eye, soul to soul. Human to human, no absolutely. That I have a review
of his powerful text on race and economics. Of course, he’s written many
texts, he has a vast corpus. But I get a chance to go
into detail as which insights I try to tease out and
did my critique of him. I don’t think he
gives enough weight to the institutional and
structural dynamics that are going on in the
black community. I think he puts a lot
of weight on initiative. And I do agree about initiative. I think the issues of
self-love and self-respect, the issues of self-confidence
are fundamental. And what are the
ways in which we can ensure that there’s
increasing levels of self-confidence and
self-respect and self-love in black America,
very important. On that particular
issue, we coincide. But he tends to downplay
the role of the structural and the institutional,
and therefore he thinks that by free
initiative, lo and behold, black people would be able
to steal flour and flourish. I think there’s still
a fundamental need for some transformation
in the economy. I think there’s a
need for schools and a whole host of
other institutions. And that requires
institutional change, not just self-initiative on
behalf of individuals. SPEAKER 2: Sure. I have one more question
if you don’t mind. What experiences have shaped the
differences in your worldview compared to Dr. Sowell? CORNEL WEST: Well,
very interesting. Because Thomas– so
he began as a Marxist. You probably know that, huh? Dissertation– and he shifted. And the shift for him had
to do with the failure of socialist economies, and the
failure of communist economies. And I agree about the failure
of socialist and communist economies. But I held on to my
commitment to the empowerment of poor and working people
through both individual as well as social and structural. He let the social and
structural once he let his Marxism go very early on. He wrote wonderful early
works on Marxism, actually. And you know his
biography of Marx that was quite
fam– it’s getting– we got to let the other voices
go here, though, brother. Yeah, we’d have to steal
away and have some coffee or something together. SPEAKER 3: Hello. CORNEL WEST: How you doing
today, good to see you. SPEAKER 3: I’m [? Jada ?]
[? Alexia ?] [? Hampton. ?] I’m just talking to you
right now, sister to brother. I really don’t know how these
words are about to come out. But I’m in war– or I’m
at war within myself because I really want to be an
advocate not only for the arts, but for the things I believe
are right in the world. But I don’t know how to. Because I feel as though you
gave an awesome speech today, it was very beautiful,
very moving. But what are we
really going to do? Go home and Snapchat,
eat a burger? Like I’m not really
sure how we progress, how we move on from stage. And I really want to know. Because I’m a
theater arts major. And I believe that I can change
the world through the written text. Because that’s the examination
of the entire human condition. So I need your
feedback right now. I don’t know if you’re
going to tell me something, it’s going to scare me. Maybe it’s something
I need to know. But I need the truth right now. And if so, I really want
to stay connected with you. Because when God brings
somebody like you into my life, I want them to stay. And I want to learn from
them as much as I can. CORNEL WEST: Thank you so much. Absolutely. [APPLAUSE] CORNEL WEST: Thank you so much. I mentioned before,
and I had a chance to meet some of your fellow
students who are in theater. I don’t know–
some of them here, even there was a number
of them who were here. We had a magnificent
conversation. Because August Wilson used
to say that black people authorize alternative realities
by means of performance. Because it goes back to
when we lived in a context where it was against the law
for us to read and write, it was against the law
for us to worship God without white supervision. [INAUDIBLE] ring shout
in the dark in the creek, and we lifted our voices. That’s what our anthem
is, lift every voice. And it was through
voice and performance that we could get some sense
of a different reality, given the nightmare
we were living. That’s one reason why the
arts and especially music has such a fundamental
privileged role in the shaping of who we
are, black self-confidence, black self-respect and so on, And so one thing, I think,
is that– well one, I do want you to get
something to eat after, because you got to
live life day by day. You got the grand calling,
but every day you got to live. I do want to get
something to eat. Two, I want you in
that arts program to keep alive the great
legacies of those who are raising these kind of voices. It’s no accident
that a white brother by the name of Tennessee
Williams, first collection of plays is called
what, American Blues. Because like Bruce
Springsteen, he’s a blues man from the
vanilla side of town. Blues is not skin pigmentation. It’s finding your voice. A Streetcar Named Desire,
the music coming out of the Five Deuces,
there’s a character in the play is jazz itself. So in that sense,
in theater, you make sure that that
legacy is heard. Suzan-Lori Parks, we can go
on and on in terms of that. So there’s much
work for you to do in terms of keeping
the legacy alive that does authorize
a different reality, enables, empowers us not to
give in, cave in, or sellout to a present that’s
too indifferent toward the suffering of people. So I think you have a
magnificent present and future. And there’s nothing
wrong with being at war. But when you are
at war, you want to make sure you are a
well-equipped and well-prepared love soldier. And intellectual soldier. And psychic soldier. And then still loving
your mama and your daddy and your grandparents
and so forth. Because they’re
going to look at you and say, oh, that little
girl, she got so much fire. Where did she did
all that fire from? Say yeah, I’m building on you,
but I’m finding my voice too. And we’ll make sure we’re
in contact, my dear brother. Thanks so much. [APPLAUSE] CORNEL WEST: We go in the
back, we go in the back. SPEAKER 4: Thank you,
Dr West for coming. CORNEL WEST: Thank
you, my brother. SPEAKER 4: Actually my question
is somewhat related to hers. I started my
education here at USI, I finished at
another institution. But you talked a lot about
this Socratic self-evaluation. Putting yourself in the shoes
of people who are suffering. And for me, that transformation
was through language. I learned Arabic, I studied
the Middle East quite a lot. I was in Palestine last year. And I’m very touched
by everything you said. But I do want to push you
forward on that issue here tonight. Because how can we have a night
celebrating Nelson Mandela, who was striving and battling
against apartheid, when right now in Palestine,
American bombs are routinely used to oppress, kill. American support,
military and diplomatic, is without hesitation. So that is part of my question. Can you please address that? And then also, how can
I push other people in my life to undergo this
self-evaluation whenever– like you said, we are
almost slaves to the student debt or the materialism. I mean, it takes that money
to, and those institutions, to go through that
self-evaluation. CORNEL WEST: Yes. I appreciate your words, and
I appreciate your witness. And you’re right, I
didn’t get a chance to go into the variety of
structures of domination and forms of oppression
all around the world. There’s no doubt
about that that I could have said something
about my precious [INAUDIBLE] brothers and sisters in India,
I could have said something Kashmir, I could
have said something about the Israeli occupation,
which as you know in public, I’ve been speaking on for 32
years in terms of it being wrong, immoral and unjust. In that particular
case, the question is how do we express our love
for both Jewish folk– who after 2000 years of vicious
treatment of persecution and pogroms and the
Holocaust and so on, have a legitimate preoccupation
with security– and yet no security
is ever procured based on the occupation
of anybody, let alone precious Palestinians. It’s a delicate situation
in terms of occupation being wrong, morally and unjust. But at the same time,
you have a people who are convinced that
their security is at stake. And the only way
they can be secure is to reinforce an occupation. And my claim is no,
there is no security that is based on an occupation. And hence, I’m a
strong, strong critic of the Israeli occupation
in that regard. Now, Nelson Mandela certainly
agrees with me on that issue. There’s no doubt about it. And so I didn’t get
a chance to talk about a number of
international issues. And so I’m so glad that
you raised this issue. I think it’s very important. But the question
is how do we engage in a critique of a
vicious Israeli occupation without falling
into, as you know, the pitfalls of anti-Jewish
prejudice, anti-Jewish hatred, anti-Jewish sensibility. And that’s always a
problem for any movement. How do you ensure
that the xenophobia is highlighted, even as you keep
the focus on the moral issues. And I think occupation
in and of itself is an unjust and
immoral condition. And therefore I bring serious
critique to bear on it. SPEAKER 4: And in terms of
me engaging with my friends and pushing them to go through–
because whenever I talk about this issue, I very much become
kind of like the weird guy, who like learned
another language– CORNEL WEST: No,
but a lot of it has to do with just example,
though, brother. A lot of it has to
do with example. Them seeing you undergo
the transformation. Then, of course, you provide
certain texts for them. Have them read Ben
Ehrenreich’s new book on Palestinian occupation. And the focus on a Mandela-like,
Martin Luther King-like figure, [? Tamimi ?], on the West Bank,
and what he has undergone, what his family has undergone,
all the various treatments and abuses that he’s
had to come to terms with as he’s tried to fight
for nonviolent resistance. People don’t even
know about these kind of figures in that situation. So a lot of it has to
do with just exposure. A lot has to do with
your example, my example, and a host of others. Thanks so much. SPEAKER 5: Hi, Dr. West. What an honor it is to be here. And obviously, you
can tell I’m green. So I wanted to shout
you out and say thank you so much for standing
up for Jill Stein and the Green Party. Thank you! Not many people know about her. CORNEL WEST: Is that what
the green stands for? SPEAKER 5: Yes. I was the blue bearded
guy behind Bernie. And since, you know,
Bernie supported the other person who
remains not to be named, I support Jill Stein. I also want to thank you for
standing up against the two party system, speaking
up for racial justice, environmental justice,
and for us all. So my question to you is what’s
your future for the Green Party? CORNEL WEST: Oh,
well, I appreciate. SPEAKER 5: On the spot. CORNEL WEST: Yeah,
no, it’s true. SPEAKER 5: But then
again, so am I. CORNEL WEST: No,
but as you know, my fundamental commitment,
both as a Christian, as a human being, and as a child
of the West family is to truth and justice. And I’m open to solidarity, and
working with any organization or set of individuals,
any mosque, any synagogue, any political party,
any church that’s willing to tell the truth. What I love about not
just sister Jill, but also brother Baraka, is that they’re
willing to speak seriously about Wall Street, about drones,
about national surveillance. I didn’t get a chance
to say anything about the violation of
rights or the liberties. I didn’t say anything
about Americans who were assassinated
without due process. I didn’t say anything
about the ways in which our cell phones
are under surveillance all the time. And the cozy relationship
between the Google’s and other such institutions
tied to the US government and what have you. Those are libertarian issues. And they’re issues that sister
Jill and brother [? Ajumu ?] are serious about. And hence, you know, persons who
I have great respect and love for. So it’s hard to know
what the future is. But any time the Green Party is
right there in the same lane, I’m right there. Very much so. SPEAKER 5: One more question. CORNEL WEST: Anybody else? Anybody else? SPEAKER 5: OK. Thank you, Dr. West. Thank you so much. CORNEL WEST: You know what
we’ll do, let’s have all four. And then I’ll answer all
four, then we’ll go home. Is that all right? But I got to write them down
because I’m absent-minded. SPEAKER 6: I studied philosophy
in [? Vincent’s ?] University, it’s about an hour away. Most of my education
involved religious studies. So I took a class one summer
called esoteric traditions. I was kind of curious
what your stance was on those esoteric traditions. And maybe more
specifically, the Kabbalah, maybe your personal and your
professional opinion on it. CORNEL WEST: Yes. On Jewish mysticism. Yes, OK. Oh, it’s a rich
tradition, brother. Rich tradition
thank you so much. I won’t say anything. Go right ahead, number two. SPEAKER 7: Dr.
West, you’re clearly an incredibly intelligent man. But you’ve done so much already. You’ve said so much, you wrote
an incredible amount of books. What keeps you going? How do you find more words
to say when you’ve already said so much? And can I shake your hand? CORNEL WEST: Oh, sure. [APPLAUSE] SPEAKER 8: Good
evening, Dr. West. CORNEL WEST: How you
doing my brother? SPEAKER 8: I’m doing well,
how about you, brother? CORNEL WEST: I’m doing well. You got that New York too? SPEAKER 8: Oh, thank you. I actually want to move
to Brooklyn, actually. Now, I’m a theater major like
a previous question asker. And I moved from a city
north of Portland, Oregon where Black Lives Matter
movement did start. So I got to see that
develop and grow. Also, though, as a
Caucasian citizen of the United
States of America, I haven’t really experienced
quite the same amount or kind of oppression that,
say, someone of color or someone of a different
gender or sexual orientation might have. Coming here to a state which is
borderline above the bible belt even, I’m experiencing a
lot of different opinions in demographics. What would you say when
offered a kind of advice or maybe an answer to those who
are facing a lot of adversity? CORNEL WEST: I
appreciate that, though. All righty. One more, we’re going to answer. Thank you so much. SPEAKER 9: As a queer
person, how do I get my community to rise up? Whenever– we’re too
often killed before we have a chance to rise up. CORNEL WEST: You
said too often– SPEAKER 9: Killed before we
have a chance to rise up. So how do I motivate to be like
hey guys, let’s go do stuff. CORNEL WEST: Oh. Now which community are
you from, my brother. SPEAKER 8: I’m transgender. And I decided to
identify as queer. CORNEL WEST: You what? SPEAKER 9: I identify as queer. CORNEL WEST: Oh, yes, yes, yes. My dear brother, absolutely. Absolutely appreciate
your question. OK. Fantastic. Fantastic. We on a high note. First question had to do
with Jewish mysticism which is a very rich tradition. Gershom Scholem and
others have laid bare. And what I love about
Jewish mysticism is that it is on intimate
terms with catastrophe. The catastrophe is in
the Godhead itself. Shattering,
shattering with divine sparks that result from the
shattering of the Godhead. And it doesn’t
necessarily mean that it’s connected to what I consider the
great contribution of Judaism, which is that of
the Hebrew prophets. It doesn’t necessarily
mean that it leads to a prophetic witness. But it’s open to being
connected to prophetic witness. And so what we call esoteric,
I mean– I was just wondering, I’m so glad you specified
which particular tradition. Because a lot of times,
esoteric tends to– people tend to think, well, it’s
some kind of side activity. Whereas actually, it
might be something that ought to be taken much
more seriously in that regard. Howard Thurman, for example, the
great teacher of Martin Luther King Jr, one of the
great Christian thinkers, taught at Morehouse
College, was black. One of the first
black professors, actually, at Boston University. Founded the first
interracial church in America, 2020 Stockton Street
in San Francisco, California, way back in the 40s. That he was someone who took
Jewish mysticism seriously. And it’s no accident
that John Coltrane was a student of Kabbalah, an
intense student of Kabbalah. It was on his table
when he died there in Dix Hills, Long Island. What did he get out of Kabbalah? Somehow the sense of sustaining
a love of the Baal Shem Tov. A love that he saw not just
in persons but in things that cannot be suffocated given the
nightmare that’s Coltrane’s saw in America, and the nightmare
that he’d experience in many ways in his own
life as a black man. You know, Coltrane
was taken to jail and beat up and a whole lot of
other things when he was young. So how do you keep keeping on? Curtis Mayfield. Keep on pushing. We talk about this
among students. It’s not just a
question of having hope, you got to be a hope. Exemplify the hope. When I was coming
along in church, they used to say the
Kingdom of God within you and everywhere you go, you
ought to leave a little heaven behind. That’s what it is. You are a blessing. You are a hope. You exemplify it. Not because you God or
messiah, because you fallen, but you trying to build
on that great tradition. So when you ask me
what keeps me going is I find great joy
in doing what I do. And that’s a very rare thing
for anybody in the world. And I aspire to put a smile on
my mother’s and father’s faces. A high, high, high standard. The third question had to do–
I can’t read my hand-writing. What was that third question? Oh yes. Well the first thing,
you fortify yourself. The second thing,
you have connections in small communities
and sub-cultures. So you can boister, you
can buoy each other up. You can enforce the
best of each other. And all it takes is
just a critical mass. So you can be a student group,
it can be a part of a mosque or a church or a synagogue, it
can be part of a trade union, it could be an
intellectual club. We want to read Tennessee
Williams and August Wilson this semester, we don’t have
enough teachers doing it. Just start a study
group and do it. We’ve got our dear
sister who’s been part of the multicultural center. That’s one of the great
places you can do that, right? You can steal away and have
the intellectual– absolutely. And salute you in the
work that you do as well. And the same is true for my very
precious and priceless queer brother. Up against
unbelievable prejudice. Unbelievable dehumanization,
unbelievable invisibility. One of the sisters talked
to me about being invisible, black people have
been invisible. Ralph Waldo Ellis’ great
novel, Invisible Man. These days, to lose track of
the humanity of queer brothers and sisters requires
serious attention. I say that as a Christian. They’re made in
the image of God, and they are to be
treated with a kindness. They said but oh brother
West, in the Bible, doesn’t it say homosexuality
is so or so and so? I say, well, what did Jesus say? Not a mumbling word. Well if you’d have thought
it was a cutting edge issue, Jesus would have dropped a
little bit here or there. [LAUGHTER] Not a mumbling word. But oh, brother West,
Paul said, Paul said. Well Paul said slaves be
obedient to your master. We got around that
one, didn’t we? [APPLAUSE] Paul’s got some insights. Paul said he didn’t want
women to make a joyful noise. I’m black Baptist, Gut
Bucket Holy Ghost Baptist. We got around that one. So you have to engage
in a love centered, crystal centric, Jesus
centered perspective they keep track of those folk
who were spit on and rebuked. And it’s a very important
theological debate that takes place. But it needs to take place. But when I hear my
dear brother say that he’s in a community where
it’s very difficult to rise up, well, first you just have to
rise up within your own soul. Then you have to connect
with folk who themselves are trying to accent the humanity. And then you’ve got to make
sure that as a queer brother or sister, you keep
the love center. So that no hatred flows
from some of the hatred that you receive. Just like in
[? Matteo’s ?] mother. I saw my dear sister
jumped up with a nice hat, did you want to say
something before we leave? SPEAKER 10: Yes. I first want to say thank you. This has been a life
changing experience for me, and I really appreciate you
taking the time in coming here. And I’m glad that my green
friend Brad invited me to come. I kind of want to hit on
something that no one else. And you mentioned
that you had been working in the correctional
facilities 30 plus years. I have experienced the
correctional facilities for three to four years. And in that time I did the
Socratic self-examination, and I became free on the inside. And I was able to look around
and perceive things around me because I was seeing clear. I also was able to excel,
except my lack of education and schooling by Leo
[? Tolstoy ?] who was an anarchist, and his line
of thinking was free thinking. And the more and
more the days go on, though, I realized
that yes, that has helped me to
become a free thinker. But it’s also– I’m ignorant
in the line of history. And I think that people in
the correctional facilities really need to
understand these things. And realize the importance
and the value of their lives. And I think that
they need to learn that all these things that
you spoke about tonight are for them, just as
much as it is for us. And if you ever want
to see dehumanizing, walk yourself in those doors. Because it’s happening
all over the place. And– I’m really
nervous right now. I don’t know what it is that
you do exactly in there. And you know, the
fight of everything– it’s like once you go in
those doors, you come out and you are met with rejection,
rejection, and rejection. And something else
that I learned, being from a correctional
facility that was controlled movement to one that was more
like a college with a fence, is that between
those two prisons, I learned that they were
doing the thinking for me. And when I got to
the other one, I was like what is
going on with me. I have no idea. and I started doing the
Socratic self-examination. And come to find out, it’s
because they’ve made– they controlled my every movement. I didn’t have to think. And so if I can’t
think on my own, how am I going to
survive out here? I mean, you have to get
your self-esteem together. They’re going to eat you up. And I’m probably one of
the very small percentages that have succeeded. I have been out for
over five years. And I’ve been sober ever since. And I have my daughter
and I have a dog. But not many of us make it. [APPLAUSE] Not many of us make it. And most of them don’t
believe that they can. And when they get out
here, they make it so hard for you to even try, that why
the hell should you anymore? You just need to
run back, go there, because that’s the
easier, softer way. That’s the easiest way. You get fed, you get clothes. You have to put up with a
bunch of people that are in pain clanking around metal. My god, that is annoying. However, you learn how
to live in that way. And some of you become
institutionalized. I saw in my time there,
there was one specific woman I saw go out and come back
in three times for the three years I was there. You know why? Because she was a prostitute. She would go out
in the summer, she would get enough time where
she was in for the winter and taken care of. And out for the summer. CORNEL WEST: Oh, indeed. Well, thank you for your words,
your heartfelt words, though. Very, very much so. What I was blessed to do,
what I’ve been blessed to do, is I teach philosophy
in the prisons. So we read Plato, or read
Augustine’s Confessions. We read Toni
Morrison’s Beloved, we read Lorraine Hansberry’s
Raisin in the Sun. The most popular book that
I’ve taught in the prisons is Samuel Beckett’s
Waiting for Godot. That text is probably
the most popular. And prisoners are chocolate– at
least 90%, 95% black and brown. We read Richard Wright’s
Black Boy and so on. But it’s also tied to a program. It’s a New Jersey
step program so that the students in the
prison receive college credit. So when they leave
the prison, they then go directly into Rutgers
or College of New Jersey. And we have a very
low recidivism rate. Because they are
educational equipped. And then we also have
connections with jobs and what have you. Now at Princeton, we
inaugurated a PT Greene program, which is a magnificent
program by the name Jim, who was a tennis star. We actually beat Arthur
Ashe when Ashe was playing with UCLA way back in the 50s. He’s the last brother I
know to beat Arthur Ashe. But I always tell him that. But he’s a good brother. And he provides money for
the PT Greene program. We started with
just seven students. We now have over 150
students at Princeton in 23 different colleges. That shows part of that
moral spiritual awakening that I’m talking about
among the students. They’re not tied into
the step program. So they don’t
necessarily get credit. But they’re involved in
educational activities. And all of that, it’s
spiritually and intellectually empowering. You all know Michelle
Alexander’s great book, The New Jim Crow? That’s the text you
want to take seriously. That’s the truth-telling work. And she comes out of
the same tradition that I’m talking about. She’s just younger,
sharper, more good-looking. And magnificent. Thank you all so much. [APPLAUSE]




Comments
  1. Seriously….Cornel West gives the SAME speech everywhere he goes. Is this about Cornel West or Nelson Mandela? #ICant

  2. Lets be honest: if there weren't big bucks to be made, the Wests and Mandelas wouldn't have bothered that much. If the slave trade, for instance, was to be pinned on the Jews and Arabs for their role, just imagine how little satisfaction West would've received?!

  3. This disgusting idiot doesn't know the meaning of fascism… Fascism is the opposite of Liberty.

    The Magic Sentences Of Liberty

    We can eliminate 90% of the crap we call "politics" by following these first principles of Liberty:

    "Liberty" is a poetic term for property rights.

    Therefore there are only TWO KINDS OF LAWS:

    Type 1) those that protect property rights,

    Type 2) and those that attack property rights.

    "Have the government do unto others and their property as you'd have the government do unto you, and your property."

    The Democratic party specializes in Type 2 laws, that's why their leadership tend to be such bad people and psychopaths.

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